Santa Barbara News-Press

Santa Barbara, California, 2000-2002

The News-Press is the big paper in Santa Barbara. I tried to get a job there when I moved to Santa Barbara with Michele in 1974; but I was only a theatre critic at that point, and theatre critic is not a job in a small city. When I came back to be with my mother after my father died in 1991, I noticed that no one was reviewing classical music for the News-Press, and there is tremendous interest in music in Santa Barbara. I persuaded them to let me write a couple of reviews, but when I came back to stay a few months later, that opening was gone, and anyway, I needed more of a job than that. Instead I went to work for the weekly paper, the Santa Barbara Independent, and then went on to edit Santa Barbara Magazine for five years. Meanwhile I had become life-partners with Carol Storke, whose grandfather was the founding publisher of the News-Press.

There was a resistance on both sides to writers crossing over between the Independent and the News-Press (then owned by the New York Times). After I left the magazine, Tom Jacobs from the News-Press called and asked me to review plays for them. Newly “retired,” I needed the job. I was still reviewing classical music for the Independent, but I reasoned, sophistically, that there was no conflict because I was writing about different subjects for the two papers. Marianne tried to talk me out of it, and she is very good at invoking loyalty and tugging heart-strings, but I’m afraid I defied her and did it anyway, and was relieved that she did not throw me out as music critic: Carol and I loved going to all those concerts, which added immeasurably to the richness of our lives.

A year later the News-Press asked me to review concerts for them, and it was a good move, not only because they paid twice as much, but because the people who went to the concerts read my reviews in the News-Press, and for the first time I got a significant amount of feedback, most of it positive. I had been writing reviews now for years and years, and I felt I really knew how to do it. I understood the form, and how to energize the language, and how to throw in something a little outrageous now then, or make some unexpected point to keep the reader’s interest. I no longer procrastinated but wrote the review whenever I needed to, any time of day or night. It was sheer delight to try come up with language that would convey something of music’s immediacy and richness and vitality. I also wrote, for money, features about various musicians, whom I would interview by telephone; but this was not a kind of writing that I very much enjoyed. When I noticed a gap in the News-Press’s dance coverage, I volunteered that I could review dance as well. I had no credentials but I like dance and I had been looking at dance for forty years. That was fun too: another medium, partaking of both music and theatre, with a sensuous physicality of its own.



from the Santa Barbara News-Press, 4 January 2001

In Shepard’s ‘Fool for Love,’ a date with destiny

by Michael Smith

“Fool for Love” is hardly the romantic romp its title suggests. Sam Shepard’s lovers, Eddie and May, are locked in a passion that has long since lost its joy.

He leaves, has other women, expects her to wait. She finally flees, and he comes after her. That’s where we find them, in a seedy motel room in the middle of nowhere, unable to “go home” together or to let each other go.

Hovering just outside this zone of earthy realism, rocking, drinking, observing, and occasionally commenting, is an older man who turns out to be the father of both lovers. Not only are they addicted to each other, they are half-siblings, something they learned only after they had “fooled around” in high school, and they are helplessly reenacting the old man’s primal pattern.

Their faher, the story goes, had two wives in different towns, two teenage kids, comfortably coming and going until one of his wives turned possessive. At that point, he went nuts and ultimately took off, leaving them all for the floating semi-existence we see him in now.

Outside, Eddie’s “other wife,” a glamorous paramour mysteriously referred to as The Countess, is stalking him in a big black Mercedes-Benz. May’s date for the evening, an innocent local, arrives to take her to a movie. Dad loses his cool trying to justify himself. When the Countess sets Eddie’s truck on fire and his trailer-load of horses are running wild, he goes out “just for a minute.” May, who has already been packing her suitcase, realizes he is going for good—and goes after him.

“Fool for Love” is little more than an hour long, but there is a lot in it. Shepard’s mythic sensibility is going strong and the play is nakedly, courageously true to the writer’s own life. The Old Man clearly echoes his elusive father, whom he had finally tracked down in rural New Mexico.

Shepard biographer Don Shewey asks, “Who else could the Countess be but Jessica Lange?” By the time he wrote “Fool for Love,” Shepard was a movie star as well as a playwright and director and left his wife of 13 years for Lange. The agonized exchanges between Eddie and May sound like actual conversations.

Jenna Coulombe, who directed the production now running at Center Stage Theater, is a dramatic arts major at UCSB; producer Dan Meyers is a history major. They have done good, honest work on “Fool for Love,” investing the seriousness the play demands and meeting its challenges.

Nara Dahbacka as May and Bryan Kimmel as Eddie believe in their characters. Lance Mason is suitably avuncular, if not crazy enough, as the Old Man, and Jesse Bellinger is just about perfect as Martin, May’s date. Set designer Chris Turner imaginatively locates the Old Man’s limbo on a platform hovering above and behind the action, and the sound and lighting effects outside the motel room window are evocative. Much of Coulombe’s staging is terrific.

Where the production falls short is in turning up the heat between Eddie and May. Dahlbacka puts May’s bruised resistance to Eddie so much in the foreground that we lose track of her desire for him. Kimmel adds a cocky-nervous laugh to too many of Eddie’s lines. The play frequently seems stalled when it should be steaming with erotic obsession.

While “Fool for Love” has been one of Shepard’s best-received plays, there is nothing slick about it, nothing easily acted, nothing resolved. But that reflects the truth he is after: that each of us has an inner nature, perhaps a destiny, that is not always comfortable to live with but cannot be denied.